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EDITORIAL: Front-line and essential workers need better government support

Here we are, about to head into a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as a province and as a valley.

Here we are, about to head into a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as a province and as a valley. 

We cannot be complacent and we absolutely must approach this phase of the pandemic by making decisions to protect people's lives based on the best information available to us, not just what we have done in the past. 

A year ago, the first wave had us living with some of the most stringent restrictions we have seen so far from the Alberta government. It was not actually a "true" lockdown and unless you were considered an essential worker, or your business in the community was essential, you were expected to stay at home and limit your contacts. 

The numbers didn't escalate, they went down rather quickly and led us into the summer months where there was the ability to do more outdoor activities. But after Thanksgiving Day weekend, the numbers started to curve back up and it was clear exponential growth of the virus was occurring in communities across the province.

Limited restrictions were introduced far later than experts were advising and as a result, we spent the Christmas holidays again subject to public health orders on what businesses could be open and capacity limits. People were asked very nicely to stay home and save lives, and many did just that and we saw the epidemiological curve tracking this deadly virus bend down and numbers drop.

Over the past two to three months, however, new variants of the virus have begun to spread in our communities. These "variants of concern" are exactly that – concerning. We have spent a year learning how this virus behaves and now with these variants we must learn they do things differently and we must react to this situation differently as well.

Experts in the science of infectious diseases like the novel coronavirus are warning us these variants are more infectious and the data is showing they affect people in younger age groups more severely than before.

It is like there are two very large red flags being waved in front of us and we have to decide what to do about it. Continue with business as usual, or realize, especially here in the Bow Valley, that the situation is becoming increasingly dangerous for our front-line essential workers?

Our municipal leaders should be particularly concerned about this situation, as it has been clear this entire time provincial officials are more than happy to promote outdoor recreation, but have zero concept of what that means for tourism destinations like Canmore and Banff.

The people who earn a living in this valley in careers and jobs that require them to come face-to-face with the visiting public on a daily basis have been an afterthought when it comes to how all levels of governments have pushed forward with policies and programs to mitigate the harms of our current crisis. 

The federal government announced some coverage of paid sick leave, but an employee must apply for this relief, it is not provided through the employer. Protections for sick or injured employees in Alberta were recently scaled back by the UCP government, a move that pre-dated COVID. However, continuing through with these efforts to "cut red tape" for employers during a public health crisis is a low blow for the people most at risk of catching this virus and having their lives permanently changed, or lost, as a result. 

Every single employee in this valley, and in Canada, should be able to refuse work that is not safe for them. They should have at least two weeks of guaranteed paid sick leave from their employers and we should trust them to use it when it is needed. 

We also need a concentrated local effort on vaccination. The Town of Banff is in talks with Alberta Health Services to establish a mass vaccination clinic space. The Town of Canmore needs to also get on board with this initiative. 

While provincial and federal politicians are happy to finger point at each other on the issue of vaccines, the rhetoric is getting tiresome and Albertans want to have better access to them immediately. We need to scale this process up as fast as we can because it is the Hail Mary government officials are banking on to get to the end of this pandemic. 

If Albertans want to come and play in their backyard, we need to protect our local essential workers as the first priority.